My friend Blossom posted this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert to his blog today:
It’s impossible for me to summarize the talk (go watch it – it’s well worth nineteen minutes of your time), but it made me think about the Muse as I see her.
Let me start by saying that I was raised by a pair of atheistic research scientists. I went to college at a pre-eminent, highly focused science and engineering school, and I studied mathematics because I considered it more rigorous than the other sciences. Intellectualism and disbelief is in my blood.
And yet I have a strong personal relationship with the Muse, whom I believe is a representation of the Divine. Or rather, She is a way of connecting to the Divine. I don’t believe in theologies of the “do this, do that” sort, for a variety of reasons. (Not least of which is the sneaking suspicion that, really, God has better things to do.) I don’t believe in a Divine that answers prayers or interferes with people living in the world. I’ve not seen any convincing (to me) evidence for this, so I don’t believe in theologies.
What I do believe is that there is a Divine, something which we can’t touch directly but which we connect to intuitively and emotionally. Love and beauty are facets of the Divine. Asking whether it is self-aware, for me, elicits the Zen “mu” (roughly translated, “wrong question”, a question that contains flawed assumptions and cannot be answered as posed). I don’t believe the Divine thinks the way that we think; if it is aware, it is an intuitive awareness, not a language-based, left-brain awareness. More to the point, I don’t think the question is relevant: if you have ever longed for beauty, or loved something intensely, you have touched the Divine. Theology is what we build around ourselves for human reasons, but the emotional, intuitive relationship is with the Divine. I can’t prove it, but I instinctively know it to be true.
So who is this Muse of mine? She is the divinity, the spirit that helps me connect with the Divine. Maybe she is the connection to the Divine. She might be a construct of my head, she might be a real spirit – the distinction has never seemed relevant to me. It’s like trying to name and classify snowflakes – you can try, but why would you? You can’t classify joy.
Anyway, she’s my Muse, and while she (like all people) can be trying at times, I wouldn’t want to live without her. Sometimes she gets me up at 3am to draft patterns, because she thinks the middle of the night is a perfect time to be creating; other times, she takes four days off in the middle of a project, leaving me grinding mechanically away. Most days, though, she shows up, and we sit down and work together. We’ve been working together for most of my life, and we get along very well. I wouldn’t say she’s the primary laborer in this partnership (in case you hadn’t noticed, I do all of the typing!), but I couldn’t work without her, either.